Ambulance changes: Ozark EMS withdraws as eastern district provider
Ozark EMS officially withdrew as the exclusive emergency ambulance service provider in eastern Carroll County on Monday night, effective immediately.
Ozark EMS owner Leon Cheatham announced the decision during a special called meeting of the Eastern Carroll County Ambulance District (ECCAD) commission at the eastern district courthouse in Berryville.
The commission voted to authorize ambulances from Mercy Hospital in Berryville to begin accept emergency calls in the eastern portion of the county immediately.
Mercy had been the exclusive provider of emergency ambulance service in eastern Carroll County until January 2015, when Carroll County Judge Sam Barr authorized Ozark EMS to begin accepting calls on an alternating basis with Mercy.
Mercy officials said they lost $2.1 million over a six-year period from the beginning of 2009 through the end of 2014, including more than $500,000 in 2014 alone. They said the move to a two-provider system worsened an already difficult financial environment by cutting into Mercyís revenue opportunities without making a significant impact on its fixed costs.
Ultimately, Mercy stopped accepting emergency calls in Carroll County in March 2015. It has continued to operate an ambulance in Berryville for making transfers from Mercy Berryville to other hospitals.
Transfers are considered more profitable than
emergency calls because a higher percentage of transfer bills are paid in full.
Cheatham, whose company first came to Carroll County in 2014 to provide transfers for Eureka Springs Hospital, said Ozark EMS has suffered financial losses that make it impossible to continue without some form of immediate payment arrangement with the county. The commission, which has authority over emergency ambulance service in the eastern portion of the county, did not discuss such an arrangement. The commission was formed in January to oversee the ambulance service district after voters approved the districtís creation in the November 2016 general election. Voters also approved a 2.5-mill tax to fund the ambulance districtís operation. The commission is expected to use revenue from that tax to pay for a long-term contract with an ambulance service, but is still several months away from beginning the bid process for such an agreement. The commission does not yet have an established checking account, although it is expected to open bids from banks at its next meeting.
ďIíd like to start out and say thank you to Carroll County, thank you to the judge,Ē Cheatham said at Mondayís meeting. ďWhen we came into this, we asked to come into the county to help out. I thought our biggest problem in the county was not having service because transfers were being done. Thatís where our money is at. We gave up our contract with Eureka Springs Hospital because I made the judge a promise that I would do my best to never leave the eastern district without an ambulance. We turned down many transfers simply because we wanted to keep an ambulance here. Yes, thereís been times when we havenít had an ambulance but if youíll look at those times, it was when multiple calls came in and we had to call someone else in. Itís not because we were leaving, doing transfers, in order to make that profit. We were making a profit but anyone in here that has anything to do with directors or owners or billing of ambulance services will let us know today that with the cuts that have been made since last year, itís hard. I spoke with several of them that havenít had a check since January. VA hasnít paid since last November. But what can we tell our veterans? ĎNo, weíre not gonna take you, because I canít afford to.í No, donít do that. You do it, and hoping that something else comes up. So that leads me to where weíre at right now. Weíre $40,000 to $50,000 in the hole right now. I cannot survive the rest of the year. Itís gonna take another $120,000, approximately, to be able to survive the rest of the year. If thereís no way of coming up with any type of clause, or emergency, for that, then I said I would stay until 6 oíclock today, until the meeting, where I could explain everything to the people, and to the board, and thatís where Iím at. Iím willing to stay if thereís any way that we can come up with some type of agreement, some type of fund. I donít know where itís gonna be, or what you may have or what you can do, but as of 6 oíclock this afternoon if thereís no agreement that we can come to, we will be stepping down and someone else can step in. Iíve really enjoyed it. Iíve had a lot of friends. I see a lot of support. I canít thank anybody enough. It was a dream of mine, and itís been good. Iím here to take care of the people. Iím not here to do transfers.Ē
Cheatham said he had reached an agreement to sell his company to Pafford EMS, headquartered in Hope, last week but the deal fell through when Pafford was informed it would not be able to accept transfers along with emergency calls. He said Pafford chief executive officer Jamie Pafford told him that she couldnít afford such an arrangement. Pafford has not returned a telephone message that was left last Thursday.
Bob Patterson, executive director of emergency medical services for the Mercy system, was at Mondayís meeting and told the commission Mercy had one ambulance stationed at the Berryville hospital and was working to position another one as close as possible in the event of emergency calls Monday night.
The commissionís next regular meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 12, at the Carroll County Eastern District Courthouse in Berryville.